Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that affects the squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer, but squamous cells aren't just found in your skin. They can also be found in your conjunctiva, the white part of your eye. When squamous cell carcinoma develops in the conjunctiva, the resulting cancer is known as conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma. Here are five things you need to know about this rare type of cancer, especially if you think you might have this type of cancer.
What are the signs of this cancer?
If you have conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma, you may notice a growth on the white part of your eye. This growth can be flat or bumpy and may be mistaken for benign growths such as pterygia. Other possible symptoms are vaguer and can be easily mistaken for other, less serious eye problems. For example, you may also have red, sore eyes or vision problems like blurred vision, double vision, or sensitivity to light. If you notice any changes in your eyes, no matter how insignificant they seem, make sure to see your optometrist for an examination.
What are the risk factors?
Conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma is caused by excessive sun exposure. People who spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun, either for work or for fun, have a higher risk of developing this type of cancer. Wearing sunglasses when you're outdoors can help protect your eyes, but keep in mind that only over half of American adults wear sunglasses consistently. Are you one of them?
People with light skin and light eyes have the highest risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, but people with dark skin and dark eyes can get it, too. Everyone needs to protect their eyes from the sun.
A history of skin cancer is another risk factor. You could be at risk of getting conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma if you've had previously had a malignant tumor on their skin at some point in the past.
How is it treated?
There are many treatments available for conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma. The main treatment is surgical removal, but since recurrence rates tend to be high after surgery alone, you will also need adjunct treatments like cryotherapy. Cryotherapy uses extreme cold to kill cancer cells.
After your cancer has been surgically removed, you may need tissue grafts to restore the appearance of your conjunctiva. The tissue for this graft will be taken from unobtrusive parts of your healthy eye.
Other cancer treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be required, depending on the extent of the cancer's spread. If the cancer has spread deep into your eye, your eye may need to be removed to keep the cancer from spreading any further. Your doctor will let you know which additional treatments are required based on the stage of your cancer.
How will it affect your vision?
If your cancer is treated before it spreads from your conjunctiva to the deeper structures of your eye, your visual acuity after treatment is likely to be quite good. One study found that visual acuity was 20/40 or better in 81% of patients and 20/60 or better in the remaining patients.
How common is it?
Conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma is the most common conjunctival cancer in the United States, but it's still a rare cancer. The worldwide incidence of this cancer varies between 0.02 cases per 100,000 persons and 3.5 cases per 100,000 persons. It tends to be seen more often in places where people get a lot of sun exposure, so while this cancer is considered rare, consider how you can better protect your eyes from the sun (even when it's overcast).
If you think you might have conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma, visit resources like http://arizonaeyes.net to connect with local optometrists.